SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. – Who is liable for keeping sidewalks clear and what happens when that is not done?
“I fell down and I knew that I needed to get across the street because I was afraid of another vehicle possibly behind that car,” Greg Szabo said.
Last Friday, Szabo was hit by a car trying to walk down Monroe. Szabo is blind, was wearing a reflective vest and had his service dog with him at the time.
Despite that, he had to choose to walk in the street rather than on the sidewalk, because it wasn’t shoveled.
A preventable accident, bringing to light a bigger problem, snow removal.
“I felt like if the sidewalks were much more passable for pedestrians and people with disabilities who need it would be a much safer trip,” he said.
Aerius Franklin is a disability advocate at Inland NorthWest Disability Experience or INDEx.
He has a form of cerebral palsy, where he relies on a motorized wheelchair and public transportation to get anywhere.
However, just getting to the bus stop now is a challenge.
“I am literally in the middle of the street. And then I have no traction. So I’m either fishtailing out like this, or I’m just spinning out completely,” Franklin said.
Some days, he even gets stuck, in someone else’s footprint.
“It makes me nervous,” he said.
The sidewalks, used by many, but inaccessible to some. Whether they’re on their feet, wheels, or paws.
“The dogs will slip. I’ll slip,” Melissa Giles, who walks dogs for a living, said. “Especially this dog with special needs she only has 3 legs so she’s constantly slipping.”
“The city should offer a better solution, the county should offer a better solution,” Franklin said.
Right now, the city asks all property owners to clear a 36-inch wide path on sidewalks by 9 a.m. the morning after a snowstorm. But from what NonStop Local saw around Spokane that wasn’t the case.
So what then? Kirstin Davis with the city said it’s a complaint-based system, if someone files a complaint against a property, that owner will get a reminder in the mail. If they don’t comply, the city will try to send someone out. Then, the third strike is a citation that could run over $100.
However, Davis said that doesn’t really happen.
“I’d have to check on that. I haven’t heard of any citations,” she said.
Now with one man hurt, due in part to a lack of enforcement by the city, Davis said there’s only so much they can do without adequate staffing.
“We are enforcing the policy based on the tools that we have. Best practice so far has really been to empower the community to take care of each other,” she said.
Policymaker and city council president Breean Beggs puts it back on code enforcement to do their jobs because another accident could make the city liable.
“What I’ve noticed over the years is that the city doesn’t devote enough staff, or make it a priority to enforce those laws and that leaves both the city potentially liable and the property owner on those, hopefully rare, but very unfortunate events when people are seriously injured,” Beggs said.
Although, it’s unclear yet if any litigation is in the works for Szabo. To be clear, both the property owner and possibly the city could be liable if someone gets hurt because of an unshoveled sidewalk, but several factors play a role.
As always, if you are disabled or a senior, there are nonprofits that can help you clear out your sidewalk or driveway. You just have to call 3-1-1.
You can view the video here: